Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy

Review: Dissidia Final Fantasy

Format: PSP
Release: Out now
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: In-house
Screenshot Gallery.

The unusual name might hide it, but Dissidia is the inverse of Capcom making a Street Fighter RPG. From a certain perspective the Final Fantasy series is about nothing but fighting: thousands of little scraps punctuated by the occasional bigger hoedown with a mystical dragon. But turn-based battling has about as much to do with realtime videogame fights as Hot Wheels has with drag racing, and just translating its characters into fighting game archetypes would have been far too simple for a developer like Square Enix. No, it’s built a fighting game around RPG principles like levelling up, potions and adjustable movesets.

If you’re thinking ‘recipe for disaster’ then get to the back of the class with the rest of us. Against sizeable odds, in Dissidia Square Enix has crafted a new breed of fighter that combines a fizzing and fluid combat system with considerable structural depth. It’s easy to be misled by the first hour – which doesn’t so much ease you into the game as carry you on a stretcher – into thinking the combat is dazzling but shallow. As soon as the game proper begins and your enemies are fighting back, the subtle counterplay and movement at the core of Dissidia reveals itself. It’s a system that’s been built around the visual concept of the game as much as anything else – flying warriors, zooming cameras, slow-mo and gorgeous combo strings – so mastering level geography is as crucial as zoning your opponent.

There’s even a new idea behind the most basic element of any fighter – knocking out your opponent. The aim is the time honoured reduction of hit points, but these are seesawed in Dissidia with bravery points. You have an HP attack and a BP attack, each of which reduces the respective statistic of your opponent, and the amount of BP you have determines how powerful an HP attack will be – although landing HP attacks then reduces your BP total. Dizzy yet? In basic terms, you’re stealing your opponent’s BP to increase the power of your attacks, so the two extremes of strategy are building up a hoard of BP to end the fight in a couple of blows, or whittling away with low-powered HP strikes. There are other subtleties – reducing your opponent’s BP to a negative number ‘breaks’ them, making all of your attacks critical hits and opening up the chance for a fancy button-mashing cutscene that will probably end the fight – but think of it in practical terms as a system of give-and-take one-upmanship.

It’s dry in the description but in the hands Dissidia is furiously quick, and in parts gorgeous. The inspiration behind the visual style is obviously Advent Children, the so-so Final Fantasy VII CGI that had many a pyrotechnic moment of sword ballet, and here the combat’s all about diving and swooping around the huge stages to manoeuvre into position before clashing. Depending on the combatants, the fight can be a series of pirouetting counterpoints with sensational breakthroughs, a slugfest in which parries and guard breakers are the preamble to skull-crushing blows, or a delicate exchange of spells at range before a quick and dirty area-effect finisher up close on a weakened opponent. The variety within its combatants is another of Dissidia’s welcome surprises, not least for showing the naysayers that the Final Fantasy series isn’t just about moody boys with swords. Cloud, Sephiroth and Squall are here, of course, but among the rest you’ll find the lolloping, deceptive Kefka; a whirling demon of quick blows and dodges in the Onion Knight; and the defence-focused powerhouse Exdeath, who depends on counters rather than straight attacks to deal out damage. There’s even a little bit of redemption for that chancer Tidus, here a speedy and aggressive combination fighter.